Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Abusive Men In The Advertising Business

When it comes to sexual misconduct, things were different up until a few years ago.  As a recruiter, I have heard stories which were dreadful and appalling about senior executives who brutalized and humiliated women; demanding that they sit on their laps, pinching, feeling and groping, verbally putting them down. They left these women with, for the most part, no choice but to accept it if they wanted to succeed or be promoted.

Somehow, when I was in advertising, I was unaware of all this abuse.  It was certainly nothing I ever did – my parents would have killed me and, besides, it was just not what I did or even thought of.  But as a recruiter, I started hearing the stories.

I heard about one creative director who would stand outside on the street in front of his office building and when he saw a woman who appealed to him, he would say that he was going to meet her.  He would stand in front of the building every day at the same time for days until he saw her again.  And he would approach her and, sure enough, somehow, about 80% of the time he was successful.  He would do the same things to women he liked in his office and, in those days, it was assumed that whatever happened was by mutual consent.

There was another creative director who practically attacked women. He was successful with some, but was rebuffed by dozens (literally), some of whom quit, others who sued the agency and received a substantial settlement. But the agency did nothing to stop it; his talent was valued above and beyond his persona.  He was so outrageous that someone I know who lived in his building would get off the elevator if he got on because she would not be alone with him.  He was totally a sexual predator.

Looking back at it all, it was repulsive. And worse, it was tolerated by management.

It is hard to realize that only fifty years ago there were few women senior executives in advertising, especially account management, creative and media.  I can only imagine what they had to do or go through in order to succeed. Mad Men was very accurate in that regard.

But just last week I heard a recent story from a former advertising person who told me that her boss constantly humiliated her by throwing or dropping things on the floor and asking her to pick them up so he could look down her blouse. What kind of man does something like that?

I once worked for an account guy who came to the agency business from space sales (Sports Illustrated, I believe). When he was asked what kind of skill his new secretary should have, he told the HR lady that he wanted someone who would sleep with him.  The HR person told me this many years later. She also told me she found him such a person.

I couldn’t believe that stuff like this really happened, but I know it did.

I congratulate the #metoo movement; it is about time that women feel safe enough to share their experience.  And, on behalf of the majority of men in business who would never do things like that, I sincerely apologize and hope that ad agencies (and, in fact, all businesses) put programs and processes in place to address this problem.   Yes, it is about time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Adventures In Recruiting: The Client Who Didn’t Want To Hire Me

New business calls are always difficult.  The seller has to put his or her best foot forward and, at least initially, may not know the issues faced by the buyer.  I once made a new business call on one of the top ten agencies.  They had a new director of human resources and I wanted to meet her.  It took weeks of non-stop calling to get through to her and make an appointment.

I only realized shortly after we started the meeting that she had no intention of working with me.  To this day, I don’t know what the issue was.  But here is what happened.  Not long after we started, she asked me, “So, tell me what you look for when screening candidates for us.”  I thought it was an odd question, but I gave good reply to this kind of question.  “I look for anything and anyone you tell me to look for.  I work for you.”
Her reply threw me.  She said very emphatically, “No.  What do you look for?”  And again, I told her the same thing.  She shook her head adamantly and repeated the question. And, again, for the third time, I explained that I worked for her and would find her candidates who matched their culture as well as her criteria and job specs.  She became angry with me.  Clearly, we were miscommunicating.   

I thought for a second and asked her, “Do you want me to name the top three attributes I look for in all people?”  She nodded yes.  So I said to her, “In rank order, besides looking for the job specifications, I look for someone you can like, someone you can like and someone you can like.”  From her reaction, I knew that I had not given her the answer she was looking for. (To this day, I don’t know what she wanted me to say.)  She asked me if that was my final response.

Well, I said, “Have you ever hired someone you didn’t like?”  She actually said she had and I said, “And what happened to that person?”  It was the end of the meeting. I knew I had struck out.

The good news is that she lasted as head of HR for only about five or six months.

The agency then became one of my best clients.

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